A few days ago I read an article in which Take-Two Interactive’s CEO – Strauss Zelnick said that America is not a good market for MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) games and that they would be focusing all of their MMO efforts in other countries. Of course, all of the major media outlets like Polygon, Joystiq, The Escapist, Gamespot etc… immediately jumped all over this story and started leg-humping Take-Two for a few quotes and scraps of knowledge, but when I read about it, I just facepalmed.
I, for one, think this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in the gaming world. MMO’s don’t work in the US?
Zelnick went on to say that the only two MMOs which have been commercially successful in the United States are EverQuest and World of Warcraft. To a point I’d agree this is correct, but we have to manage the expectation of “what is successful”. Back in the early days, if an MMORPG had 400,000 people playing it, this was considered a phenomenal success. The angels had smiled and the trumpets had sounded and heavens had shone golden light down upon the game.
Eventually, EverQuest and World of Warcraft came along and changed all of that. Now, an MMO is not considered a “success” unless it has millions of people playing it. This has caused a couple of problems in the gaming industry. First, developers arbitrarily think “Gosh, we’re going to have 11 million players like WoW so we’d better build 500 shards/servers/clusters/realms/whatevers in order to handle all of the traffic. ” They spend so much time working on robust server software (which they never test properly anyway) that they end up neglecting the game itself.
Next, you have the issue of testing. There’s always some putz of an executive sitting behind his desk who started his career running grocery stores and has no idea what a successful game is. The aforementioned putz wants the game out now so the shareholders will be happy and get off his ass and so that he can get a nice fat bonus check for hitting his quarterly numbers. He’s going to push the development teams to button the game up and get it to market ASAP so he can get paid. This means beta testing data is ignored, tester feedback is ignored, bugs are allowed to slide into the final release which never should have made it to the final release and all in all it’s a big shit show.
Then there’s the issue of laziness. Over the last decade or so, dozens of developers have tried to create dozens of MMO games and they’ve all done it with the same formula. They all use the same old stale interface with the same old stale gameplay mechanics and there’s been no progress at all in what MMO games are or how they’re played. It’s the same old crap which leads consumers to say, “well, this is just another WoW clone” (not really true since WoW is a clone itself) and then leads consumers to say, “but it’s not as good as WoW“. Then there’s the problem: WoW did it right. Not in the beginning, but eventually they got it right for mass market appeal. They screwed real gamers, but handed the mass market players their brass ring.
So now you have companies pushing out the same, tired, busted old MMORPG formula again and again but they’re putting it out at the same level WoW was when it released (and broken as hell) because they’re being forced to take shortcuts by the men in the big offices. They can’t do better than WoW because WoW is at the pinnacle of that particular formula so they’re basically putting out games which are inferior to what’s already out there and has a huge player base.
Americans don’t fall for it. We’re too spoiled. We don’t want something that is the same as something we’ve already got, only with different item names; we want something new and innovative and fresh (Call of Duty fans notwithstanding) and when we get the same thing thrown at us over and over again, we get tired of it.
And here’s the kicker: there’s no marketing. How can there be a fucking market if there’s no fucking marketing? You want to know why WoW and EverQuest were so successful? Because Blizzard and Sony marketed the hell out of them, that’s why. I remember seeing ads for WoW during the opening trailers at blockbuster movies, on the TV, and on the radio. They built a marketing budget, they hyped the bejeesus out of those games and they sold billions upon billions upon tens of billions of dollars worth of software and subscriptions.
It’s hard to sell a game nobody knows about, idiots.
So it’s not that America is not an MMO friendly market it is that the MMO market has not been friendly to Americans. We want more. We want different. For god’s sake WE WANT AN ENDGAME. That’s the biggest tip I can give to any MMO developer, by the way. If you don’t have a full, lush and expansive endgame, you don’t have a game. Your title will fail and you will not only ruin your chances in the MMO market but you’ll make yourselves look like morons in the process.
Get it right and America will open right up to you.